For Servite's Max Thomas, fast times come with the territory

·5 min read
Max Thomas raises his arm after winning the 200 in 21.44 at the Southern Section Division 3 track finals on June 13, 2021.
Servite's Max Thomas raises his arm in triumph after winning the 200-meter dash in 21.44 seconds at the Southern Section Division 3 track finals Saturday in Costa Mesa. (Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

There is an old adage in sports that “speed kills.”

Well, Max Thomas has speed to burn and he has used it to excel in two sports at Anaheim Servite.

With one more year of high school ahead of him, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior has built an impressive resume in soccer and track and the sky is the limit for this confident and ultra-competitive athlete.

At Saturday’s Southern Section Division 3 track and field championships in Costa Mesa, Thomas won the 100- and 200-meter dashes and anchored the Friars’ 400 and 1,600 relays. The team’s strategy on the oval is simple: Get the stick to Thomas.

“Max expects a lot of himself because he’s so fast,” Servite coach Richard Gibbs said.

Thomas has played soccer since the age of 4 and helped the Friars capture the Southern Section Division 1 championship as a sophomore last year. He started playing in AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) competition but switched to club soccer five years ago, joining Slammers FC in Huntington Beach, and that team has become his second family.

“I came to Servite mainly to play soccer, and then my dad started coaching the track team, so finally I was like, ‘I guess I’ll do both,’ ” said Thomas, who grew up in Long Beach. “We’ve always had a strong soccer team at Servite. Winning CIF last year was a fun experience. … I’ve had great teammates and coaches there, and I’ve made lifelong friends.”

In his three seasons with the Friars, Thomas has scored six times, including game-winning goals against Orange Lutheran and Bellflower St. John Bosco. Servite defended its Trinity League title this season before falling to Los Angeles Loyola 1-0 in the section semifinals. The Friars advanced to the regional semifinals June 3 but lost by the same score to eventual champion Manhattan Beach Mira Costa.

“Max’s incredible speed on the soccer field is only matched by his desire to succeed on and off the pitch,” Slammers FC Director Alex Gimenez said of Thomas, who made All-West Region of the Olympic Development Program and was chosen Gothia Cup MVP in 2019.

Thomas said he ran the 200-meter dash when he was 8 or 9 years old, then took a long break from track until his freshman year. Since then, the 200 has been his favorite event.

“Speed is definitely my best strength in soccer,” Thomas acknowledged. “I do a lot of long touches, a lot of long through balls, so my speed has translated to the field very well. When I was younger, I played more in the back, but when I came to my club team, my coach said, ‘Go play striker.’ It was foreign to me at first, but it’s become my position.”

Thomas won the 100 in 10.76 seconds and the 200 in 21.75 seconds at the Triton Invitational in April — at the time both were the third-fastest clockings in California this season. Then he won the 200 at the Arcadia Invitational in a state-leading 21.37 on May 13 and Saturday he blazed to victory in the 100 in a wind-aided 10.51 seconds (a personal best and the third-fastest time in the state under all conditions this season) and the 200 in a wind-aided 21.44. He is the school record holder in both sprints.

“For me, soccer is probably harder,” Thomas said. “Track is still very, very hard, but my mind grasps track better. That said, goals are probably more hype because you score and you win for your team and there’s a love aspect to it. When I win a race, it’s for me, so it’s not really that huge of a deal.”

When asked which sport he would pursue in college, without hesitation his answer was track.

“For the past couple years, it’s been both,” Thomas said. “My plan was always to go to college and do both, but through this year I had a very hard time with soccer. It became too much stress and it wasn’t fun anymore, so now I’m going to do track in college and soccer will be more for fun.”

Besides his speed, Thomas has a will to win that fuels him to be the best he can be.

“I’ve not really liked to lose for my whole life,” he said. “Me and my dad, who ran track at UCLA, used to play soccer in the room when I was probably 5 or 6. He’d beat me and I’d be really, really mad, so yeah, it’s always been there.”

Thomas’ competitive spirit got the best of him at the end of the 400 relay Saturday when he was unable to make up enough ground on the anchor leg and subsequently threw the baton in frustration. As a result, instead of finishing second, the Friars were disqualified. Thomas took responsibility for his mental lapse and vowed to make up for it in the 1,600 relay, in which he produced a late surge to earn a runner-up finish.

“I had my club season, my track season and then the school season at the same time,” Thomas said of overlapping sports during the pandemic. “That was very, very hard, but we have a great group of coaches at Servite. My dad, Coach Gibbs and my soccer coaches helped me balance it all out.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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